Dear Nanny

Reflecting on the very complex relationship between mom and nanny.

Dear Nanny,

I met you just a few days before my baby came. I’d never interviewed a nanny before, and I had no idea what to ask you. I read every article, and printed three pages of questions I’d found on the internet. But I didn’t ask a single one. Instead, I rubbed my belly and tried to imagine the baby that would soon be on the outside — what life would look like in a week, in three weeks, and in three months when it was time for me to go back to work. It just looked murky and abstract.

I interviewed two other nannies, mostly because I thought I was supposed to. And I couldn’t picture leaving my baby with any of you. But I knew I was going back to work, and although I didn’t know much about motherhood, I had heard that leaving a three-month baby home alone wasn’t an option. So I trusted the moms whose children you had already raised, and I hired you.

A week before I was due back at the office, you arrived at my door. I handed over detailed notes about everything the universe had so far revealed about my baby. I showed you how bouncing on the exercise ball calmed her, and how she’d only finish the bottle if you tilted it just so. I lectured you on her likes and dislikes, I quizzed you on her daily routine, and I made you swear up and down and back and forth that you would do everything JUST like I did it. Because after all, I was the expert. Then I cried when I left for work, just 12 weeks after my baby was born.

Those first few weeks, and even months, were incredibly difficult. Each day, I second-guessed my decision to go back to work. I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake, if I was outsourcing motherhood to you. You were a relative stranger, and you were raising my baby! Would she grow up feeling abandoned by me? Or unloved? Would she forever blame me for leaving her in someone else’s care for the better part of her days?

But as the weeks and months wore on, I watched her melt into your warm embrace each morning. I heard the sweet giggles you shared while I got ready for work, and witnessed the knowing glances you exchanged at the end of the day. It turned out that hiring a nanny didn’t mean she was losing me. It meant she was gaining you.

Thank you for letting me have the milestones — I know she first rolled over under your watchful eyes. But you didn’t tell me, and you shared my excitement on that Monday morning when I regaled you with stories of baby’s incredible feats.

Thank you for letting me take the credit — while I’m at work all day, you patiently teach all those “please” and “thank-you”s that impress all the mommies at the playground.

Thank you for letting me keep my role — she’s never once acted confused about who her mama is, a fear that anyone with a nanny knows well.

You’ve quietly become the glue that holds us all together. You remind us to buy milk, you surprise us with a home-cooked dinner on those extra-long days, and every so often, you trade in your warm bed for my pull-out couch, so mommy and daddy can have a much-needed date night. Thank you.

When I was home again on maternity leave with #2, we became a caregiving team. And this time, instead of imparting my alleged baby wisdom upon you, I asked for yours. I willingly handed her over when I couldn’t get her to stop crying, and begged for your advice when something — anything! — seemed wrong. Never once did I tell you how to take care of her. You already knew. You knew it all along.

You suddenly got sick this past summer, and I was distraught. You, who I once couldn’t imagine in my life, now I couldn’t imagine life without. Suddenly, it was my turn — our turn — to take care of you. And as we nursed you back to health, we realized that aren’t just our nanny, you are our family.

On your birthday this year, we threw you a surprise party. We invited the children who called you their nanny, the families who you watched over for so many years. All the girls (yes, they were all girls) used familiar sayings (your sayings) and told warm stories about your life before you walked into ours.

And they were all so amazing, those generations of girls…the kind of girls I hope my girls grow up to be. The kind of girls I know they will be. Because you’re raising them, dear nanny. You’re raising us all.

Photography by Lisbet Svensson Schau.

Jessica Pallay

Jessica Pallay

JESSICA PALLAY is the Co-Founder and Chief Content Officer of Well Rounded NY. She is a Brooklyn mama to Libby and Elsie, and writes about all things pregnancy and new motherhood.

Comments {15}

  1. I have tears of happiness reading this piece – for you and the love you found in your nanny as well as for me and the similar story that can be written about my circumstances. The most difficult and beautiful choice some of us face.

  2. Awwwww Jess, I feel you. I don’t know what I would do without my nanny. OUR nanny!! xoxo

    Jess D
  3. That was beautifully written and I can promise you is being quickly circulated and cried over in the nanny community. Families like yours are who we all hope to work with.

  4. As a nanny, this resonated deeply with me . . . I shared it, and both mothers and nannies alike are commenting with “Bawling my eyes out” and “This is my life exactly!” For a nanny, this is EXACTLY what we hope to accomplish in the families we carefully set ourselves into. We gently and carefully learn all the ins and outs of what make your family work, and we take your hopes and dreams for your children and implement them slowly, in daily ways that you may not even notice until they are 5 years old and show a level of compassion and empathy for others that you never knew was there. The best of us do more than teach your children their colors and manners, we care for their entire being and help mold them into little world-changers. And while we are caring for your wee ones each day, we care for you, too, by cleaning up the mess from over the weekend that proves to us you all enjoyed each other greatly, and by teaching your fussy infant to self-soothe so you don’t have to wake up AGAIN to give her the paci, and by writing your grocery list and signing for your packages and helping design baby #2’s nursery. Nannies truly are superheros . . . but we are the sidekicks. We are Robin. YOU mommies and daddies, you are Batman.

    The Kalamazoo Nanny Authority
  5. I too had tears in my eyes as I read this article because I am the mother/grandmother who lives in another state and wishes I were closer. I have dreamed about walking my granddaughters home from preschool, reading books, playing, cooking and giggling together but I can’t. So I pray that this “stranger” in my daughter’s home is loving and honorable. Then, I come to visit and I show up a bit earlier than my daughter who is still at work. I am a witness to that special bond between my granddaughters and their nanny. There’s a rhythm in the house that I quietly observe and I know that this is a special woman. My grandchildren are safe and in good hands.

  6. This just made me cry. I am a nanny. The loved that I receive from the children that I care for is enough to cover the emptiness that I feel for not being able to have my own.

  7. Thank you for this. Almost 20 years in the Nanny world with 14 of them mainly raising girls. This warmed my heart. Thank you for such a wonderful read. 🙂 🙂 🙂
    Newborn Care Specialist and Professional Nanny

    Maryann Kamitian
  8. Oh my goodness this is so beautiful! 9 yrs working in the daycare industry, and now 3.5 yrs as a nanny… I love what I do! 🙂

  9. What a beautifully written letter! Glad I’m not the only one who bawled at such meaningful words. As a nanny myself, all we ever want is for the children to be happy, healthy and to know they are loved. Finding a family that mirrors these wants (regardless I who the love or care comes from) is truly wonderful. Lots of nanny love xxx

    Aussie Nanny
  10. What a fantastic article so lovely to share your appreciation as at the end of the day a nanny just wants a little thank you and appreciation.I have worked with some wonderful families over the years,it is without a doubt the most personal and rewarding job you can have ,a very special job being part of a family,I miss it! I am now a nurse.

  11. what beautiful words of appreciation for us nannies, 28 years in the profession and never heard words so lovingly put so well. Thank you for this with all my heart xx

  12. I am a nanny. Thankyou for recognising our role in your children’s lives. I was very moved by your piece.

  13. Thank you – that is a great tribute to your nanny and being one myself I appreciate your tribute and can relate to how you felt as to how my employers feel when they leave me with their new bundles of joy and preciousness x

    Patsi Liddle
  14. This letter is amazing, and EXACTLY how it all should be. Nannies and families working together to give the best to their kids. Thank you so much for writing this post.


  15. As a nanny I can say this brought me to tears! I wish every family could appreciate a nanny as well as you do!


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